If you really want to discover how much (or how little) you understand a subject, try teaching it to middle-schoolers. Like the three different ways verbals can be used in a sentence. Or first-person, second-person and third-person point of view. Or the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
In addition to teaching 7th-10th grade English at a local Christian school, this year I am also teaching 8th grade Bible. Together, five students and I have been reading the Gospel of John – a favorite of mine for its literary vibe and extensive use of metaphor. The main question we’ve been exploring is, “Who is Jesus?”
It’s the same question that British poet and hymn writer William Chatterton Dix asked in 1865 when he penned the lyrics to the beloved Christmas carol, “What Child is This?”
“This, this is Christ the King,” Dix answers, “Whom shepherds guard and angels sing… The Babe, the Son of Mary.” But who is this Son of Mary? A prophet? A wise teacher? A miracle worker? The long awaited Messiah? Or God in the flesh? And if God, then how?
People in Jesus’ day wondered the same thing. How could a man, born of a woman, claim to be God? Yet, that’s just what Jesus did. On at least two-dozen occasions in the book of John, Jesus identifies himself by the same name that God had previously used in Scripture to identify himself, “I AM.”
Depending on the conclusions that people drew about Jesus’ claim of divinity, they responded with either anger or adoration. The doctrine of the trinity describes the singular existence of God as expressed in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t codified until three centuries later at the Council of Nicaea. Yet, a careful study of Scripture reveals more ways in which Jesus claimed to be God.
He claimed to have the Water of Life (John 4:14), a reference to God being the “fountain of living water” (Jeremiah 17:13). He claimed to be the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), a reference to God being the Shepherd of his people (Ezekiel 34:12). He also claimed to share God’s glory (John 17:22) despite God saying that he will not share his glory with another (Isaiah 42:8).
I admit that the trinity is hard for me to grasp, much less explain to my students. Perhaps God is like a musical chord, in which three individual notes are required to produce a single sound. Or like a rope twisted from three separate strands of the same material. Or like the three different parts that verbals play to form a sentence, or how a story can be told from three different points of view.
Regardless, Jesus’ assertion of divinity requires a response. Either the babe whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is one with God, or he was a heretic. However, rather than being provoked to anger or adoration by Jesus’ words, today it seems that we largely respond with indifference. We decorate our houses. Wrap gifts. Count down the days until Christmas without ever pausing to consider the magnificent claims of Christ.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Christmas Cradle and four other books celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith.